An art scandal enlivens this au-so-courant novel of romantic suspense from bestseller Lowell (Innocent as Sin), set in various locales around the American Southwest. Zach Balfour, a sexy freelancer working for St. Kilda Consulting, a security firm, falls in love with an attractive client, wilderness expert Jill Breck, while investigating Jill's recent inheritance of unsigned paintings possibly done by the late Thomas Dunstan, a legendary Western painter who had been the hard-drinking lover of Jill's artist grandmother, Justine Breck. Jilland the paintingsare at risk because some greedy art connoisseurs realize that new Dunstans might adversely affect the price of his works slated for an upcoming Vegas auction. Lowell's keen insights into art world shenanigans serve to remind the reader about the value of art for art's sake rather than art for money's sake. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Blue Smoke and Murder (St. Kilda Series #3)by Elizabeth Lowell, Carol Monda
Jill Breck was just doing her job as a river guide when she saved the life of Lane Faroe, son of two of St. Kilda Consulting's premier operators. But when a string of ominous events—including a mysterious fire that kills her great-aunt and a furor in the Western art world raised by a dozen Breck family paintings—culminates in a threat to her life, Jill… See more details below
Jill Breck was just doing her job as a river guide when she saved the life of Lane Faroe, son of two of St. Kilda Consulting's premier operators. But when a string of ominous events—including a mysterious fire that kills her great-aunt and a furor in the Western art world raised by a dozen Breck family paintings—culminates in a threat to her life, Jill reluctantly calls in a favor.
Zach Balfour works part-time as a consultant for St. Kilda. His expertise is gathering and analyzing information from unlikely and often dangerous sources. Though he's got the skills to be a highly effective bodyguard, being a bullet catcher isn't his preferred way to spend time.
Protecting Jill will take him into familiar territory—among a strange, savagely competitive bunch of collectors who'll do anything to stay at the top. But Jill is in deeper waters than she's ever known; as she soon discovers, the perils of running wild rivers are tame compared with the hidden dangers in the high-stakes game of art collecting.
From the cozy rooms of the Breck homestead cabin to the cold multimillion-dollar galleries of the Western art circuit, Zach and Jill must race against time to unmask a ruthless killer hidden in a blue smoke of money, threats, lies, and death. . . .
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Blue Smoke and Murder
Something was wrong.
Heart beating wildly, Modesty Breck sat up in bed. Listening over the pounding of her pulse, she tried to understand what had jerked her out of her sleep.
The wind blew hard, swirling around the old ranch house. She ignored the sound of rushing air. In the high, desolate reaches of Arizona's northern strip, the wind always blew.
The noise came again.
The front window groaned as someone pushed it up in the old wooden frame. Like her, groaning at every movement of her dry, brittle body. With fingers gnarled by arthritis, she found her glasses on the bedside table and shoved them into place, grateful that her hearing was still plenty good.
She fumbled under her narrow bed for the .22-caliber snake gun that was older than she was. Its lever action jammed more often than it fired, but the prowler wouldn't know that.
When she struggled to her feet, the cold rose through the old wooden floor into her thick wool socks. Over the protests of stiff muscles and joints, she walked quietly to the bedroom door, her long flannel nightgown ragged where it touched the floor. The kitchen door was open, always, taking advantage of the residual heat from the oil stove.
A muffled thump came from the living room. Footsteps crossed the groaning wooden floor. Then a scuff when an old throw rug slipped underfoot.
Modesty smiled grimly. She didn't need any fancy burglar alarms when she was surrounded by an old house whose every creak was as familiar as her own breathing.
From beyond thehouse came the triumphant yowl of one of the barn cats parading a fresh kill in the moonlight. Like everything else living on the old ranch, the feral cats earned their keep.
Modesty waited, listening to the sounds of someone sneaking around her living room, opening old cupboards and drawers, closing them, moving on.
When the intruder headed into the kitchen, Modesty knew he wouldn't be able to see her. Quietly, avoiding the loose rugs and boards that creaked, she crept in the direction of the kitchen.
The intruder was a black shadow in the moonlight pouring through the window over the sink. The pantry door squeaked as he opened it.
She flipped on the kitchen light.
Score cursed and spun around. Just my luck. The old lady has insomnia.
"Black ski mask, just like in the news," Modesty said, her voice as brittle as her bones. "Black coveralls and an itty-bitty flashlight. Where you from, boy?"
Score started for her.
She cocked the rifle. She would have levered in a round, but was afraid that it would jam, leaving the action open and the rifle useless except as a club.
"Go back where you came from," Modesty said.
Darkness stared at her from the openings in the ski mask. "Take it easy, Mrs. Breck. I'm not here to hurt you."
The voice, like the man, was low and thick. Though only a few inches taller than her five feet four inches, the man was muscular, stocky, easily twice her weight. None of it was paunch.
"That's Miss, not Mrs. Never cared for men. Nothing but trouble." Modesty gestured toward the back door with the rifle. "Git."
Score took another step forward, looked at the rifle and laughed coldly. "That old .22 is more likely to blow up in your face than hurt me."
Watching the weapon, Score came closer to Modesty without even appearing to move. He could tell by the blurred centers of the old lady's eyes that she was half-blind. Two more gliding steps and he'd have the rifle.
She tightened her crooked finger and the trigger. "I'll take my chances on it."
"Lady." Score's temper spiked. He pulled it in. Now wasn't the time to let his rage boil up. Save it for the gym. "You look like you could use some money. I've got five hundred on me. Tell me where the paintings are and it's yours."
Modesty felt like echoing the cat's yowl of triumph. I knew those paintings were worth something. I'll be able to pay those back taxes without selling off the last of the stock.
"Got all the money I need," she said. "Now git!"
She hadn't noticed the man moving, but suddenly the barrel of the rifle was pointed at the ceiling. With a wrench that made her hands ache, he yanked the gun out of her hands.
"Enough with the fun and games," Score said. He glanced at the breech and saw that the rifle had jammed. With a disgusted snarl he set the old weapon on the kitchen counter. "Where are the paintings?"
"Only pictures I have are family photos and such. What use are they to you?"
He stepped up so close she had to put a crick in her neck just to see the vague, blurred line of his mouth through the slit in the mask. If he had a neck, it was as thick as his upper arms.
"Don't make me hurt you," he warned. "Where are the paintings?"
"I'm near ninety. Pain doesn't scare me."
Score smiled slowly. "Yeah? How long will you be able to live here alone with every finger in your hands broken?"
Modesty made a small sound. Her greatest fear was being hauled off to some state institution to die with strangers puking and screaming around her.
I'll walk off a cliff first. But I'll go knowing that Jillian will be one Breck woman who won't have to depend on some damn man to survive.
Those paintings are her future.
"The only painting I have is the one I sent to an art dealer outside Salt Lake a month ago," Modesty said. "He wrote me the other week, said he sent it out for more opinions, and some fool lost it."
The man's mouth curled into a small smile. "You told the dealer there were twelve more paintings. Where are they?"Blue Smoke and Murder. Copyright © by Elizabeth Lowell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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